TikTok’s ‘marriage humour’ trend makes matrimony look hellish

‘Some people turn to social media to look for support and validity,’ says relationship counsellor Natasha Silverman (TikTok)
‘Some people turn to social media to look for support and validity,’ says relationship counsellor Natasha Silverman (TikTok)

A woman walks into her kitchen, perfectly content. Until she looks around. Something doesn’t feel right. Once again, her husband, the bane of her life, has left all the cupboard doors open. It’s chaos.

So common is this quarrel that, last year, Bruno Mars’s “Leave the Door Open” went viral on TikTok thanks to frustrated wives. Under the viral hashtag #marriedlifehumour, women posted videos in their droves, in which they dramatically open every cupboard door and drawer in the house while singing: “I’ma leave the door open; I’ma leave the door open, girl.”

The marriage humour genre, which pokes fun at the petty irritations of long-term co-habitation, benefits from seemingly endless material. Dirty socks strewn right next to the perfectly functioning laundry hamper; half-finished tasks abandoned in favour of an alluring distraction; silent wars over who takes the bins out. This kind of content has proven so relatable and popular that the hashtag #marriedlifehumour has 3 billion views on TikTok, with couples churning out thousands of videos about one another. Often, these videos aren’t about love (you’d have to visit the #couplegoals hashtag for that), but what people dislike – even hate – about their spouses.

Couples will use viral memes or audio snippets, like a joke from a standup set or the latest viral dodge meme where people sway side to side to “dodge” things they don’t want to do, to point out their significant other’s most aggravating habits. They are often fairly innocuous, like snoring, leaving things where they shouldn’t be, or taking up too much room in bed. After all, what’s married life without a little bit of passive-aggressive ribbing to get your point across? But some videos include pranks and mean jokes that prompt the question: do these people even like one another?

Take one video, posted by TikToker Allison Lewis, who describes her profile as “Wife life comedy”. It uses audio from an episode of Dadholes, a popular YouTube series by comedian Chris Wylde. In the clip, her husband Will stares deadpan at the camera while she sits beside him and mouths words from the clip. “How long have you been married?” “42 years.” “How is that possible?” And then her husband delivers the punchline: “I count in dog years cuz [sic] my wife’s a bitch.” Hilarious.

In another, TikToker Beege40 films his wife’s reaction as he plays an audio that says: “The average American male has sex two to three times a week. On the other hand, the average Japanese male has sex two to three times a year. Which is quite alarming, considering I had no idea I was Japanese.” His wife smiles wearily.

The stats quoted in the audio are, obviously, untrue – and watching someone, even jokingly, broadcast their dissatisfaction with their marital sex life doesn’t exactly feel respectful to their partner. And yet, this video has been watched more than 8 million times, while other similar videos have garnered huge viewership figures.

Perhaps the most famous example is Mike and Kat Stickler, who at the height of their TikTok fame had more than 5.4 million followers. They were known for making mocking, exaggerated videos about one another, while always insisting their marriage was a happy one. In March 2021, they announced their separation, saying that they were moving forward with “love and respect” for each other, but it hinted at a more complicated reality underneath the humour.

Of course, who among us is not guilty of teasing our significant others about the annoying things they do? Sometimes, it’s a light-hearted way of starting a conversation about minor gripes and good-naturedly acknowledging each other’s flaws. But experts think that putting your partner on blast on social media could, in some instances, indicate a relationship in danger.

There is a fine line between light-hearted teasing and something that could be considered emotional abuse through public humiliation

Rachel MacLynn

Natasha Silverman, a relationship counsellor from Relate, says: “It’s important to start by saying that for some couples, this might be a normal way of interacting. It’s OK if they’re happy and it’s within the context of their dynamic.” But she has also observed that, for some couples making these videos, “a lot of the complaints often come from a place of feeling unheard and potentially unvalidated”.

Perhaps understandably, she suggests that some might turn to social media “to look for support and validity, and they might feel a bit stronger because of that”.

And what about the person who is being filmed – the complained-about partner? While some may be in on the joke, there’s also a chance that feelings could be genuinely hurt if the joke goes too far. Rachel MacLynn, CEO of US matchmaking agency MacLynn, says: “The concern is the subconscious impact on emotional wellbeing of the partner if the complaining is too harsh. There is a fine line between light-hearted teasing and something that could be considered emotional abuse through public humiliation.”

Some of these videos also encourage the same outdated humour husbands have historically employed to illustrate how tiresome their wives are. Take for example a video posted by TikToker Sean Jantz, in which he films himself listening to his wife tell a story in a meandering way. His expression is clearly one of exasperation and he writes over the video: “I’ve been listening to my wife tell stories like this for 14 years… I deserve a medal.” In the comments, other husbands agree, saying: “Bro sorry I can’t listen to all of it. My wife just got home with her story.”

Silverman says that “contempt and criticism are two of the most toxic things you can do for relationships”. She points towards gestures like eye rolling or sighing that allow contempt to “seep through”, as well as “chronic criticism” that can result in fissures in the foundation of a relationship. She adds that publicly complaining about your partner is only going to exacerbate issues of “trust and goodwill”.

But despite the bizarre, passive-aggressive nature of this emerging genre of TikTok content, it’s hard to look away from #marriedlifehumour. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can attest to the challenges of living with another person. The vast majority of these videos are made by heterosexual couples, and with women accounting for 61 per cent of TikTok’s active users compared to 39 per cent of men, there is a ready audience. Despite the jokey veneer, the subtext – that married women must deal with invisible and emotional labour – is likely to feel validating.

Just because others are doing it doesn’t make it OK for your relationship

Natasha Silverman

But MacLynn warns that couples should be careful with how they respond to this content. She says: “Trends like this can easily get out of control. One couple might engage in innocent banter online, which inspires another couple to do the same, creating a knock-on effect, which becomes a trend.

“This could lead to a couple who are perhaps less self-aware to cross the line into bullying behaviour, which they consider to be normal because ‘everyone else is doing it’. The video also offers no solutions and therefore will offer little or no real help to couples who are experiencing difficulties.”

Silverman agrees, fearing that “negative communication styles have been normalised by TikTok and Instagram”. This could have a snowball effect, she explains. “People think, if I see other couples doing it, why shouldn’t I be able to talk about my partner in this way? But just because others are doing it doesn’t make it OK for your relationship.”

It’s a bittersweet fact that getting annoyed with one another is an inevitable element of being in a long-term relationship. But there is beauty in this, too, when you’re able to create your own language and learn to live with each other. The key to a happy marriage? Respect. Good communication. And, yes, maybe a bit of comedy. Just make sure you close the cupboard doors. All of them.